My favorite Christmas tradition, which I’ve upheld for many years, is to take a midnight walk on Christmas eve. Perhaps more than on any other night of the year, the city is virtually still. The frozen world around me is pristine. The stars appear sacred. It’s a perfect time to sort out my thoughts and commune with God. I think about the young Stephen Gashler, the current Stephen Gashler, and the old Stephen Gashler, and I’m not content until I’ve gotten the three of them to agree.
On this Christmas eve, I was discussing (yes, I talk to myself) the question of faith versus empiricism (or science). In the Book of Alma, we read:
“All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).
It appears that this scripture is as an argument for intelligent design, that the natural world is chalked full of evidence of a divine creator. One might conclude that to entertain ideas about the origins of the earth that don’t necessarily include a creator is thus misguided, perhaps even sinful. Yet as humanity progresses and science proves its worth, it becomes harder and harder to ignore evidence that takes us beyond a fundamentalist mindset.
For myself, I’ve come to peace with saying, “Spiritually, I find profound evidence for the existence of God all around me. Scientifically, I find no evidence.” I believe that agnosticism and faith aren’t necessarily at odds with each other. The mere concept of faith is predicated on the belief that God has purposely hidden himself for our good. If this is true, then of course there’s no scientific evidence to support the existence of God … unless God is sloppy. If there was scientific evidence of God, it would directly undermine our need for faith.
I believe that someday, when the veil is removed, there will be a seamless union between our beliefs that are currently scientifically based and our beliefs that are currently faith-based. Until that time, I believe it’s important to separate these two forms of epistemology. On one hand, every returned missionary knows it’s a vain pursuit to try to “prove” the veracity of the Gospel to someone else. On the other hand, science that’s built on a foundation of faith ceases to be science due to an inherent bias.
This paradoxical coexistence of science and faith leads me to an interesting thought I heard recently. You’ve probably heard the axiom that integrity is how one acts when he thinks no one is watching. By this logic, to choose the right, even when we think only God is watching, isn’t a true test of integrity. Thus, by this logic, only one who believes that not even God is watching (an atheist) can truly be tried for his integrity.
So what now? Is the axiom wrong, and one’s integrity can be fully tested whether or not he thinks God is watching? Or if the principle is true, could it be that God has thus gone out of his way to hide himself in order to make planet earth a testing ground of our integrity?
If the latter is true, and God doesn’t want us to find him scientifically, why would he want us to find him spiritually? If we’re here to become more like God, wouldn’t we be better off believing the world around us is our only reality so that we’ll be motivated to make heaven on earth, rather than postponing our happiness and development for some future and ambiguous heaven? What’s the inherent value of faith, if any?
Of course, there’s isolated arguments, and there’s reality. The reality I’ve observed is that godlessness frequently (but not always) leads to hedonism. After all, if there’s to be no judgment of the soul, why not pick up a Playboy and a bottle of beer on the way home from work? How could anything that feels good be inherently wrong so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else? Thus, among the godless, the Ten Commandments are frequently widdled down to the three or four commandments.
It is my belief that science could prove the value of an altruistic life over a hedonistic life. For example, if you throw one-hundred people with altruistic tendencies into Room A and one-hundred people with hedonistic tendencies into Room B, after X number of hours, I’ll bet hat the people in Room A would report a more positive experience than the people in Room B. I believe that if you then asked the people from Room A whether or not faith played a role in their altruistic tendencies, I believe the majority would say yes. Prove me wrong.
While I’m obviously conjecturing, if such a study exists, and its findings are reliable, it would seem that science could prove the need for faith. Maybe. Perhaps a deeper study would reveal that faith is really just a culture, and some other culture of strictly godless people could possess a greater degree of altruism.
In any case, is there really any argument against the value of a belief system that motivates one toward temperance, alms-giving, self-restraint, fidelity, family life, fiscal responsibility, honesty, peacefulness, and so on? By eradicating the doctrine of a personal judgment of the soul, can morality be just as effectively implemented into a society?
Here’s the only conclusion I can draw: if God lives, and he has, indeed, hidden himself from us, then it seems we’re wasting our time in trying to find him. In fact, it would be blasphemous to try to find him, like trying to be beat God in a cosmic game of hide and seek.
As an analogy, suppose you setup a treasure hunt for someone. You deliver the first clue to this person’s doorstep, knock on the door, and run. This person reads the clue, but instead of following it to the next clue, he focuses all of his time and energy in trying to figure out who had given him the clue. He studies the handwriting, examines the paper, searches for footprints, etc., completely failing to engage in your treasure hunt, let alone find the treasure.
Is it wrong to be as inquisitive as possible? No. The point is that time is limited, and if we get hung up on the foundational questions of “why are we here?” it’s very possible that we’ll find our lives being sucked into a circular hole, because these questions were either intended to be unanswerable or are inherently unanswerable. Then it won’t matter why we’re here, because we didn’t go anywhere.
Can I become my best self without believing in God? Frankly, I don’t care. I’m too busy trying to become like God.
2 thoughts on “Faith and Science, a Divine Paradox”
I like a lot of the things you posit and hope to be clear in my reply with some things I think about in this case.
A lot of my faith has always been based around the concept of choice, I’ve detailed that a little to you recently but sometime when we have a good moment we can get more into it. Maybe a discussion night of some sort is in order. But anyways, the concept of science vs. religion has always been very strange to me, it’s possibly because I grew up in a household of science and religion so I’ve never really seen them as two separate things. I’ve actually found a lot of people who are less vocally “loud” in regards to this sort of stuff often believe that science is true and God is true and that God simply set up science the way he did.
But in terms of the concept of why God would not set up a system in which we would believe in God through science goes back to my concept of choice. There is a lot of thought to the concept of absolutes but when it comes to finding faith there is no absolute, everyone literally has different ways and different circumstances whether small or large in how faith is gained. Including through science, but often because of the division that is brought up from the extremes people can’t seem to bridge that gap. If God were able to be proven through science then there wouldn’t realistically be a choice, and the entire concept of Satan’s plan would hold true. We would all be saved through no choice of our own, no growth, no need to understand, it would simply be, oh God exists therefore we believe he exists, done and done. So where you might see a division I see a much more enjoyable experience.
You and I, though we have not talked much about our conversion processes, I know our paths were significantly different and that we see our faiths though taking us eventually to the same point through much different glasses. That’s not nessicarily a bad thing as it is a lot of the same core concepts just different avenues to get there. And the church membership as a whole is very much like that, differing personalities, and differing understanding of the same core concepts. As an example a friend of mine and I have a discussion on a weekly basis where we discuss a concept and we’re able to come into it very interestingly because he is much more pragmatic and I am much more on the spiritual or emotional end. We discuss the same topics from two different avenues. Some of my biggest hang ups in the church often have to do with ritual, and some of his hang ups often have to do with emotion, so we balance each other out quite well. So the one thing to remember in that regard is while it’s likely best for you personally to come to the decision you did at the end, for a lot of others it is not. There are specific absolutes when it comes to the doctrine of the church, but I think the reason why there is so much area to grow, to think for yourself, and to come to different conclusions is if the church was so absolutist, it would end up only being for absolutists. But it’s not, it’s for everyone. And if the church really were completely absolutist, I would not go anywhere near it.
So often when I read your thoughts, they are incredibly thought provoking and interesting but often when you come to a conclusion I have to remind myself that it is your conclusion, and not necessarily for everyone because I never come to the same conclusions you do.
Also on the concept of faith vs. non-faith people, as a sociologist those things are very interesting to me, and while I understand how you could come to that idea, it is also one that I think has more to do with Utah then it does the whole. While I can see how you would see this concept of hedonism outside of faith, this comes into play a lot more in Utah where it is so faith centric. When someone goes away from the faith their hedonism goes a little higher, where as while I was living in Boston, I came upon large numbers of people who were teetotalers with no religious background. But for them there was no starting point in religion and thus they came to their own conclusions of being a good person without faith pushing them to their goal.
I am someone who does not fear God and can not fear God in order to believe in him. So the concept of the judgement of the soul is one I can not comprehend for myself. If my choices were based on simply a judgement of my soul I would never go to church ever again. Guilt and shame has always been very unhealthy for me and I realized a while ago that those feelings as motivators are ones in which I can simply not adhere to. If I did I would become lost. As such I do not choose a hedonistic lifestyle not because I shouldn’t but simply because I don’t want to, and there are a great many people who are not faith based who are the same way, and there are a great many who are faith based that would choose hedonism.
So while I see the point you were getting at, I don’t think you would always come to that conclusion and while it might once in a while, it’s the kind of study which would be highly impossible to take on. A survey might be the only way you could ascertain such a concept. So I understand the desire to believe that having faith in your life is simply the best avenue, and from a sociological perspective that might end up being the case, but do not count out the individuals. You can never count out the minorities which will surprise you one day.
Well said, Jon.